Are Evangelists Exaggerating?

„There’s another one streaming in!!!” that’s how the euphoric exclamation of an evangelist was when seeing another listener enters the room of the church service. Do evangelists exaggerate?

Only a whole crowd of people can stream in, not a single person. Wether another person just came in is also unknown. How is it that the story of evangelists often seem so impressive? Where do the “evangelistic” numbers on the attendants of the event come from?

Billy Graham answered those that saw him as a religious seller: “I have the greatest product in the world. Why shouldn’t it be promoted as well as soap?” ((source: London Observer, 24. April, 1955, zitiert nach: McLoughlin, William G. 2004. Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers)) It really is about advertising, winning people for the Good News. In the foreground of the evangelic preachings stands the positive, the beautiful and inflammatory. In addition those preachings are characterized by simplicity, where out of two shades of grey develop black-white-contrasts.

Is it wrong? Is the truth being twisted? At this point it is wise to take a communication model by Friedemann Schulz von Thun to help: the square of values ((Schulz von Thun, Friedemann 2013. Miteinander reden: 2 – Stile, Werte und Persönlichkeitsentwicklung. Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag. S. 46-64)). We are here between the suspense of truthfulness and awareness of impact. Both are „virtues“ (original:„Schwestertugenden“). Both is desired: We want to preach truthfully and we want to trigger an impact

"Square of values" according to Friedemann Schulz von Thun

“Square of values” according to Friedemann Schulz von Thun

Nevertheless both virtues have their demeaning exaggerations:

a) Truthfulness will quickly become a nitpicking, when no detail can be understood falsely, when everything has to be expressed biblically exact and unmistakably. Bible school teachers, theologians, sceptics and the typical German tend to that.

b) Awareness of impact can lead to sensationalism: only the effect is left in the center; facts will be interpreted quite subjectively; bible scripture are being interpreted unambiguously, where there’s no monosemy. Details will be added of whom no one really knows if they are true or not. Evangelists prone to do that.

What is the teacher accusing the evangelist of? Sensationalism! And what is the evangelist accuse the sober listener of? Nitpicking! These are different personalities and different gifts and duties. Both see in the counterpart sometimes the negative equivalent instead of the virtue they represent.

Two concluding thoughts

1. Evangelists actually experience a lot – it’s in the nature of their duty and ministry. Even most of the signs and wonders appear right where God wants to win people who do not know him yet.

2. Evangelists are in the real danger of exaggerating. They have to be aware of it and need to always examine themselves if they sacrifice truthfulness for the awareness of an impact too much. Finally it is the Holy Spirit that will obtain the effect, not the skillful rhetoric.

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